President Barack Obama met with members of his National Security Council today at the White House to discuss the ouster of President Mohamed Mursi in Egypt, NSC spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said.
Administration officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, also placed calls to their counterparts in Egypt to stress the “importance of a quick and responsible return of full authority to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible,” Meehan said by e-mail.
Officials also told Egyptian leaders they needed to have a “transparent political process that is inclusive of all parties and groups” and that Mursi and his supporters shouldn’t be arbitrarily arrested, according to Meehan.
The calls came as U.S. officials weigh how to respond to the Egyptian military’s overhaul of their elected government, while avoiding the word “coup” that could cost Egypt more than $1.5 billion in military and humanitarian U.S. aid.
Obama said yesterday he has “directed the relevant departments and agencies to review the impact under U.S. law for our assistance to the government of Egypt.” Earlier in the day, administration officials refrained from describing the tumult that was under way in Cairo as a coup and underscored long-standing U.S. ties to the Egyptian military.
Egypt’s military has $1.3 billion a year in U.S. aid riding on the Obama administration and lawmakers not calling the ouster of President Mohamed Mursi a coup.
Few in Washington were eager to use that label in light of a U.S. law that blocks directly financing “any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by a military coup d’etat or decree,” or a coup “in which the military plays a decisive role.”
By the letter of the law, yesterday’s ouster of the democratically elected Mursi and suspension of the constitution could cost Egypt the military aid that it receives, as well as about $256 million a year in economic assistance. Obama requested a total of $1.55 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt in his fiscal 2014 budget.
Rather than condemning the day’s events as a coup, members of Congress underscored yesterday their distaste for Mursi in light of his roots in the Muslim Brotherhood and his refusal to share power once he was elected.
Mursi “was an obstacle to the constitutional democracy most Egyptians wanted,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, a California Republican, said in a statement. “I am hopeful that his departure will reopen the path to a better future for Egypt.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, said in a statement that “the Egyptian military has long been a key partner of the United States and a stabilizing force in the region, and is perhaps the only trusted national institution in Egypt today.”
An exception was Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the State Department and foreign operations.
While Leahy called Mursi’s time in office a “great disappointment,” he said, “Our law is clear: U.S. aid is cut off when a democratically elected government is deposed by military coup or decree.”
Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, focused on the future, pledging to “review future aid to the Egyptian government as we wait for a clearer picture.” Neither the House nor the Senate has acted on foreign aid funding for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
Less than two hours before the Egyptian military announced Mursi’s ouster, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined to say whether overthrowing him would amount to a coup.
“With respect to the ongoing situation in Egypt, it’s premature to suggest that we have taken steps, we’re thinking about taking steps,” Psaki told reporters. “I’m not going to get ahead of, of course, events on the ground. But clearly, assessments would be made based on the facts on the ground and choices made by all parties, if needed.”